COVID-19 vaccine booster shots: do we really need them?

Summary

  • There’s been a lot of discussion around COVID-19 booster shots, considering the emergence of new variants in recent months.
  • Experts highlight that people will likely need a third dose, or a booster shot, of the COVID-19 vaccine after getting vaccinated.
  • It remains unclear how long the protection against the virus lasts after a person has been vaccinated.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has commenced a study to evaluate the mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine booster shots in the US.

The emergence of new strains of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has led to an acceleration in research on boosters in recent months. There has been a lot of discussion about COVID-19 booster shots, but the question at large is - do we really need a booster shot of the vaccine? Research on booster doses continues with many experts believing we might need them. The leading infectious disease expert in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, stated that people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine would require a booster shot to remain protected. Currently, it is unclear when exactly should the dose be administered.

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Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), also highlighted that people would likely need a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine within 12 months of getting vaccinated. In addition, he added that people might need to get vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 every year.

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Scientists still do not know how long the protection against the virus lasts once someone has been vaccinated. The research is ongoing, and researchers are closely observing participants of the clinical trials for various vaccines to see how long the vaccine will remain effective against the virus. So far, the studies have suggested that vaccines against COVID-19 appear to be effective for anywhere between six months to one year.

Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has disclosed its approach to authorizing modified COVID-19 vaccines, which will be similar to that of annual flu vaccines. This signifies that the vaccines could be authorized for emergency use without conducting prolonged clinical trials.

Pfizer and Moderna’s booster shots under investigation

To ensure the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the new strains, Pfizer and Moderna (NYSE:MRNA) are evaluating a third shot (booster) of their vaccines.

In February, Pfizer had stated that it is analyzing a third booster dose in individuals who had gotten the first dose more than six months ago. The Company disclosed that new emerging and upcoming variants were the reason for the study. Pfizer also highlighted that it is also exploring the possibility of a new, variant-specific vaccine that will target the B.1.351 variant.

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Moderna also updated that it has finished making a variant-specific vaccine to target B.1.351 and has begun a Phase 1 clinical trial. The Company will investigate using the new vaccine as a booster shot for people who are already vaccinated. The study is evaluating if this shot can boost immunity against the emerging new variants.

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What is a booster shot?

A booster shot is a vaccine dose that fortifies protection against the original infection. A vaccine contains weakened forms of pathogens like virus or bacteria or parts of these germs. Moreover, the vaccine may be made of an altered genetic (DNA, RNA) blueprint for the virus or bacteria.

The vaccine triggers the human body's immune system to attack the foreign organism like it would if the actual pathogen attacks the body. This helps the immune system remember the disease-causing pathogens. If the body is exposed to the pathogen again, the antibodies can identify and kill it before it causes any harm to the body.

Besides, research has demonstrated that booster shots train the human body to identify the virus or bacteria and defend itself.

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Mix and match booster shots

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated it had started a study in the US to test mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

The trial focuses on what happens if a vaccinated adult is boosted with a different shot about three to four months later. The clinical trial will comprise almost 150 adults who are vaccinated with any of the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Moderna or Pfizer.

In addition, individuals who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine are eligible for the study and will be enrolled in the trial in a separate group.

The NIH has planned this trial after drug developers and scientists highlighted that people would likely need a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccines, perhaps additional shots annually, just like for the seasonal flu.

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